Following on from his climactic appearance as Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr is kicking off his post-Marvel life with Dolittle. Just over a decade ago, before the MCU existed, Robert Downey Jr. was attempting his Hollywood comeback after an infamous downfall that involved drug addiction and jail time. Thanks to Tony Stark, he quickly became not only a major star once more, but the celebrity at the forefront of the biggest movie franchise ever made.
After years in the wilderness of being better known as an addict and public joke, Downey Jr. was a bigger and more beloved star than ever. Since then, however, Downey Jr hasn't done much besides Marvel movies, so it’s no wonder fans are excited to see what he does next after eleven years of headlining the MCU's worldwide domination. His choice of project, however, remains somewhat surprising.
In 2017, it was announced that Downey Jr. and his production company Team Downey (which he runs with his wife Susan) would be helming an adaptation of the Doctor Dolittle stories. So just why is this his first post-Tony Stark role? It's partially to do with Downey Jr's wishes, but also troubles in getting Dr. Dolittle made.
Why Has Dolittle Taken So Long To Get a Release?
Production on the film, originally entitled The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, took place between February and June 2018, in preparation for a May 2019 release date, and it was then pushed forward a month, meaning it would've released before Avengers: Endgame. However, it was later reported that Dolittle had undergone three weeks of reshoots following poor test screenings. Another director, Jonathan Liebesman, was brought on board to oversee filming alongside Stephen Gaghan, and Chris McKay from The Lego Movie provided new script material.
Then Dr. Dolittle was delayed yet again, further pushed back to January 17, 2020, a month that is typically seen as a dumping ground for bad releases. With a reported budget of $175 million, Dolittle has been mired in skepticism for many months now, even from many die-hard Downey Jr. fans.
Why Did RDJ Choose Dolittle?
Downey Jr. has previously discussed his unwillingness to return to working on independent films now that he’s a major star. When asked by Entertainment Weekly Radio during the press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015 whether he ever felt like making “a $500,000 budget indie movie” after finishing work on a blockbuster, he said no and elaborated on why:
“Because they’re exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, ‘What was I thinking?’ But I’m interested in doing all different kinds of movies. Sometimes the little movies are the ones that wind up taking the most out of you because they’re like, ‘Hey, man, we’re just running a couple of days behind. Do you think you can stay through your birthday and then come back on the fourth of July? And, by the way, like the crew – can you pay for the craft services?’"
Downey Jr. has done plenty of indie movies in his time. Indeed, it’s how he re-established himself before Iron Man. Clearly, however, he has no desire to slog it in such films now that he can command more money and is used to the structures of blockbuster film-making, although this doesn’t explain why he’s so keen on Dolittle.
Doctor Dolittle is a popular character who’s been adapted several times before and it’s a story that comes with an easy-to-sell hook for family audiences: A kindly man who can talk to animals. It’s a very traditional narrative too, one we don’t necessarily see a lot of in modern family films, especially in the dominant Disney mold. Unless Disney was making it, it’s unlikely such a project would get off the ground in 2019 with the kind of budget that Dolittle has commanded. Downey Jr. now has the clout to make that happen.
Downey Jr. also has young children and he may be keen to make a film that appeals to them. He’s a big star with worldwide appeal across all age groups and the best way to maintain that is to make the kind of movies that play best to family audiences. This is an actor who wants to use his A-list status to get A-List style projects off the ground rather than indie projects with an inherently limited audience and intent. Robert Downey Jr. is a level of famous and popular that few people have ever reached and he seems keen to stay that way. He made Iron Man happen but can he get audiences to care about Dolittle? Only time will tell.